Twelve teams scored fewer than 20 points last week. In five games, neither team got out of the teens. And this was not a fluke. In fact, it might even be a trend.
What is this, the mid-1970s again? Are we in a time machine?
Following a season of amazing offensive production, the rise of defenses in the recent weeks of this season just doesn't make much sense. Why has this happened? In a league that does everything it can to promote offense – tilts every rule in the favor of offense – why are the scores of game dipping to '70s levels?
It was in 1978 that the league said it had enough of 13-10 and 10-7. The league announced sweeping rules changes that allowed offensive linemen to use their hands in blocking and forbid defensive backs to play "bump and run" beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. Ever since then, it's been up, up and away for offenses, leaving defenses desperate to invent revolutionary counter measures.
So, have defenses finally caught up? No, that's not it. We've already had the "zone-blitz" and several other innovations that have been instantly successful, and in each case offense has been able to press its rules advantage and recover.
Frankly, if the low scores of recent weeks indicate anything, it might be that this league is suffering from a terribly thin supply of quarterbacks.
Consider this: Last Sunday's prominent quarterbacks included Anthony Wright, Tim Hasselbeck, Jay Fiedler, Rick Mirer, Doug Flutie, Kelly Holcomb, Tommy Maddox, John Kitna, Tony Banks, Chris Chandler, Doug Johnson, Jake Delhomme and Jeff Blake. Marc Bulger is one of the stars of the league and just a few years ago the Saints threw Bulger on the scrap heap.
With all due respect to the gentlemen mentioned above, a check of their backgrounds would challenge either their pedigrees, production or youthfulness. The fact of the matter is that never before have teams in this league been more desperate at the quarterback position. More than ever, if you want to win in this league, you better find a trigger man.
Now, here's 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bucs.
- Don't buy the baloney—You know all about Warren Sapp and his antics this season. He's likely to have something in store for the national television audience. But that's between Sapp and the league. Don't get involved in Sapp's distractions. Focus on blocking him.
- Make this your Super Bowl—The feature games on the Jaguars' schedule this year are the two games against the other Florida teams. In fact, they are certain to be the only two games this season not to have been blacked out to local TV. Miami won the first one, so this is the Jaguars' final chance to win a "big one." The Jags can't win the "state title" this year, but they can avoid finishing in the basement.
- Run right at them—That's how opponents have attacked the Bucs this year. Sapp isn't scaring teams any longer. The way you beat the Bucs is by running the ball. Their pass-rush and pass-defense are still playing at high levels.
- Press your advantage—This could be a classic "two ships passing in the night" game. The Jaguars may be a young team on the rise, while the Bucs would seem to be an old team in decline. If that's the case, the Jaguars would have a major edge in a late-season game. Old teams in decline tend to lack incentive late in the year.
- Smile for the camera—It's the Jaguars' only national TV game of the season. On Thanksgiving weekend, it should draw decent ratings. Put your best foot forward. Give the national football audience the idea something good is happening in Jacksonville and that the Jaguars are a team on the rise.
- No sacks for Simeon—Simeon Rice is playing for the sacks championship. Some would say he's playing pass-rush on every down. This would be Jaguars offensive right tackle Maurice Williams' defining moment if he stoned Rice. Without a doubt, he's their playmaker.
- Do yourself a favor—It's so much easier playing with a lead than it is having to come from behind. The Jaguars have been notorious slow-starters this year. Make it easy on yourself; grab the lead.
- Maximize pass coverage—The Bucs are very good at protecting the passer, and the Jaguars have not been very good at rushing the passer. Blitzing probably wouldn't be the best strategy because getting "home" could be tough. Rush four, drop seven may be a better idea.
- Stop the run naturally—Tampa's run game has been in the bottom third of the league, while the Jaguars' run-defense has been in the top third of the league for most of the season. The Jaguars should be able to stop the run without involving extra people. Donovin Darius needs to spend more time in coverage than in run-support. Jon Gruden has the Bucs throwing the ball a lot more than running it.
- Win special teams—The Bucs' punt and kickoff coverage units are at the bottom of the league. The Jaguars' return units are also at the bottom of the league. Both teams' kickers are at the bottom of the league in field goal accuracy. Something has to give. The winner of this game could be the team that scores a victory on special teams.